© 2024
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

David Nightingale: Elon Musk

  This essay is about 45-year-old Elon Musk, a co-founder of PayPal, CEO of Tesla, and founder and CEO of SpaceX, born in S.Africa in 1971 to a Canadian model and a S.African engineer.

I will start with SpaceX, because of its recent successes supplying the ISS -- International Space Station.

He founded SpaceX in 2002 largely because he always had a dream of helping humanity expand to other planets, particularly Mars. Indeed he has said he would like to retire to Mars. [Ref.1.] However, we must note there's a limit here, for 1/2 sized Mars has a very thin atmosphere, mainly carbon dioxide, and with an average temperature of (-80F).

To reduce costs for space travel he has emphasized the re-usable launcher rocket -- his Falcon rocket.

By December 2015 his Falcon rocket came back safely to a landing pad near where it had launched from Florida, and a month ago a little Dragon came back from ISS, plopping into the ocean under three parachutes, carrying over a ton of medical experiments to be analyzed on earth. These included Scott Kelly's urine samples, a space suit that had leaked, and so on. Re-usability has been his criterion for keeping space travel costs low, and NASA continues to give him contracts.

However, SpaceX is not the first of his achievements.

As a 10 yr old boy Elon Musk acquired a Commodore VIC 20, taught himself BASIC, and invented a computer game called BLASTAR. He has said he was severely bullied in school [ref...] and as soon as he graduated he left S.Africa and used his mother's Canadian citizenship in order to be able to attend Queen's University in Ontario.

After two years he moved to Penn and earned an Economics degree from the Wharton School, and then stayed on another year to complete a degree in physics. Accepted at Stanford to work towards a Ph.D. he decided to leave after only 2 days, to found his own software company, Zip2  -- which provided data on street maps and so on, for clients such as the NYTimes. He sold his company at the age of 28, receiving about $22 million. Then came PayPal -- he was a cofounder -- which was sold to eBay, with Musk receiving about $165 million. Thus he now had enough money to start his SpaceX, described earlier.

What about Tesla Cars?

Musk did not found this electric car company. In the early 2000s two young engineers, Marc Tarpenning and Martin Eberhard, were developing an electric sports car that used known technology -- namely, thousands of little Li-ion batteries, together with Nicola Tesla's 1880s AC induction motor, and around 2003 their 2-seater electric sports car could reach 60 mph in 4 seconds. Needing financing, Elon Musk contributed millions, and the upshot is that he is now CEO of Tesla motors [ref.2]. Today, there is the Tesla "Roadster" (2008) sports car and (since 2013) the "Model S" sedan, with further models in the pipeline. All the cars have a range of approximately 230 miles, obviously have no exhaust fumes, and because of the electric motors can accelerate extremely rapidly.

Elon Musk is also chairman of "Solar City", which supplies buildings with solar-produced electricity, and chairman of "Open AI", an open-source entity that looks at the possible dangers of Artificial Intelligence.

Recently in the news again is his "Hyperloop", a pod in a partially evacuated metal tube that can whiz people from, e.g., San Francisco to LA -- in 30 minutes, averaging about 700 mph.

Amazingly, workaholic Musk also has a social life. Married for 8 years to Justine Wilson, a Canadian author, he has 5 boys -- twins, plus a set of triplets; and since their divorce he is in an on-again off-again relationship with Talulah Riley, an English actress.


1. The Guardian, Aug.1, 2010.

Related Content